- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

Without Ellen Allums and others like her, the forthcoming inaugural weekend would look and smell a lot less presidential.

Mrs. Allums, a 32-year-old florist from Monroe La., is in Northeast Washington this week to prepare centerpieces, podium pieces and stage arrangements for the inaugural balls and ceremonies.

"I've always loved watching the inaugurations, the ball gowns, the flowers," Mrs. Allums says about why she made the trek to Washington.

For all the chatter of Ricky Martin, Sylvester Stallone and other celebrity juggernauts expected to honor President-elect George W. Bush, it's the work of people such as Mrs. Allums that makes each inauguration a spectacle.

The efforts of all inaugural laborers, from the florists to the craftsmen erecting bleachers along the parade route, tell a quiet story of patriotism and personal sacrifice.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, Mrs. Allums has pruned and stripped hundreds of red roses along with about 135 other volunteers at the Capitol Paper Building in Northeast, the temporary headquarters of the Society of American Florists.

About 150,000 roses, tulips, orchids and other flowers were shipped in for the cause.

"Our job is to make these large events feel intimate… . the theme is 'understated elegance'," says Charles F. Kremp, coordinator of the society's inaugural duties.

Normally, he says, a project like this would require six months to a year of preparation.

"We have five days," says Mr. Kremp, 58, of Philadelphia while juggling cell-phone calls. "We're prepared and able to do this."

He expects more than 5,000 man-hours of work to be expended through the week, handling flowers shipped in from as far away as Holland.

For floral designer Barbara Thran-Anderson, 46, from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., the work is more than a way to serve her country. It's the chance to soak in the energy coursing through the city this time of year.

"It's overwhelming to come into a city's that's buzzing," says Mrs. Thran-Anderson, a veteran floral designer who has crafted arrangements for the 1998 Oscar ceremonies and other high-caliber celebrity events. "Everywhere you go, [people say], 'Are you here for the inauguration?' "

Other inaugural laborers busied themselves this week preparing the grounds along the Capitol for the onslaught of media and onlookers.

District road workers patched over newly installed fiber-optic cables to make sure parade participants enjoy a smooth, safe surface.

City road inspectors measured their handiwork this week along Third Street and Maryland Avenue SW, among other thoroughfares.

The unflinching inaugural deadline proved a headache for road inspector Tom Green.

"We've had to work under a lot of pressure from the District," the 50-year-old resident of Pomfret, Md., says, measuring wheel in hand to clock the worker's progress.

"We shouldn't have paved this, but it's in the parade route," he says. Mr. Green says bomb experts descended into the street's sewer systems with dogs sniffing for explosives over the past weeks to secure the area. District workers then welded the roads' manhole covers shut.

Fellow road inspector William Dancy, 31, of Forestville says he plans to watch the inauguration at home, away from the truculent crowds.

"I think it's the best way to celebrate it," Mr. Dancy says of the traditional transfer of power. "It's supposed to be peaceful. That's what it's all about."

A few blocks away, workers hoisted immense metal beams skyward to complete supports for the Jumbotron monitors planned to give parade onlookers a better view of the swearing-in ceremonies.

Rigger John Hetherton, 38, flew into the District from England to help his company, Edwin Shirley Staging, complete the project on time.

What does a Brit make of all the inaugural bedlam?

"It's a bit of a party. It's quite cool," he says while his co-workers lug more steel beams to the site. "It's nice to be around when it's happening."

Like the aforementioned workers sweating to meet their deadlines, Lt. Col. Rucker Snead is enmeshed in inaugural details this week. His role, however, casts a much wider net over the proceedings.

As head of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee's parade division, he is charged with making sure all the parade pieces fit snugly come Saturday.

At least twice a week, Col. Snead straps on his sneakers and runs the parade path near his office on Independence Avenue.

"Know your terrain," he says.

Spending 19 years in the military on missions that included sojourns to Haiti and Saudi Arabia showed him how to approach any assignment, no matter the reach.

Objectives are set. Plans made. Men dispatched.

"It's like any operation. You have a plan you have to coordinate … and then execute," he says, using animated hand gestures to hammer home his point.

He began preparing for the inauguration Aug. 15 by poring over reports from the 1997 festivities.

Walking the parade route earlier this week, he pointed to spots where the parade participants will be as if he could see them gearing up for the main event. He ticks off spots from memory without hesitation.

"We're ready to execute," he says with conviction.

His duties have included arranging warming tents and command centers while coordinating the precise moments when the various contingents will merge into one made-for-TV spectacle.

"We're all focusing on the merger point, Madison and Third Street [NW]," he says.

Some of the elements he and his staff are coordinating include the District's own Eastern Senior High School Marching Band, the Championship Dog Sled Team and the Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team.

Even if Col. Snead weren't in charge, he would make sure he and his family had prime seats for the inauguration.

"It's one of those important events in the life of our nation," he says.

On Saturday, Col. Snead will rise at 2 a.m. to inspect the various sites, including a visit to the Prince George's County Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro to make sure the 360 horses are ready to march. Then he'll go to the command post at Third Street and Constitution Avenue NW to lord over the proceedings.

Part of his responsibilities is to make sure the 2,200 military personnel under his supervision understand the magnitude of their work.

"It's a big event for a military person," he says. It's obvious the same holds true for him.

"It's the best job a lieutenant colonel can have in D.C.," he adds.

Col. Snead is the first to give credit to the cooperation among all involved parties, from his committee to the city's security personnel.

"No one can do it all. It's a team effort," he says, interlocking his fingers to illustrate the cooperation needed for a tightly run parade.

He is speaking mainly of his fellow committee members, but he very well could be referring to all the workers chipping in to honor President-elect Bush's new administration.

The committee Web site, www.afic.army.mil, will post photographs from the parade on a two-hour delay.


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